SYDNEY • The Australian authorities ordered the evacuation of some sparsely populated rural areas of New South Wales (NSW) yesterday as bush fires, fanned by extreme heat and strong winds, raged across the state, threatening homes and closing roads.
A heatwave on Australia's east coast saw temperatures hit records in some parts of the state, creating conditions that officials said were worse than those preceding Victoria's 2009 "Black Saturday" fires, Australia's worst bush fire event that killed 173 people.
"This is the worst day we have seen in the history of New South Wales when it comes to fire danger ratings and fire conditions," Mr Shane Fitzsimmons, the state's rural fire chief, told reporters.
The areas hit by fires are hundreds of kilometres from Sydney, the state capital.
Mr Fitzsimmons said there were unconfirmed reports of homes, farm sheds and machinery being destroyed by fast-moving fires breaking containment lines. There were no reports of injuries.
By yesterday afternoon, emergency warnings were issued for five rural areas.
People were told to evacuate if they could, or seek shelter and avoid bush or grassland.
More than 2,000 firefighters, many of them volunteers, were battling 86 fires across New South Wales yesterday afternoon, with 38 of them not under control.
A 13-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man were charged yesterday over allegedly starting fires.
Temperatures climbed above 45 deg C in some parts. Dry and hot northwesterly winds coming from Australia's desert centre, some up to 75kmh, fanned the bush fires.
A southerly wind change associated with a cold front was forecast to arrive by early evening, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the front would eventually offer relief, but would create volatile conditions as it met the northwesterly flow.
Since last Friday, heatwave conditions caused the cancellation of major sporting events and put pressure on the electricity grid.
While bush fires are common in Australia's arid summer, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to more extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.
Australia has warmed by approximately 1 deg C since 1910, according to the State of the Climate report from the Bureau of Meteorology and national science body CSIRO released last October.
The number of days each year that post temperatures of more than 35 deg C has been increasing in recent decades, except in northern Australia, the report said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS